Roland Emmerich’s last film was a sequel to Independence Day, but Midway was allegedly a passion project for the director. In the documentary on the making of Tideland, Terry Gilliam uses Emmerich to explain the meaning of “derivative” to the young actress who plays the lead, accusing him of copying all of Steven Spielberg’s shots—and there is some truth to that. For example, this film reminds me in many ways of 1941, but it’s not as good.
So Emmerich had been working on Midway for years, and the result is one of the most expensive independent movies ever made—if you can count a film made with a lot of Chinese money as “independent,” because there’s about five Chinese producers on it. For better or worse, it has Emmerich’s bombastic style—some of his early films have a certain charm, like Independence Day, because it’s so ridiculous.
Obviously, it’s about the battle of Midway, the first major battle between the US and Japan after Pearl Harbor. It was a shock success for the Americans. Emmerich’s version starts with Pearl Harbor, as you would imagine, to put a background to the action. It’s full of fresh-faced young actors, with screen veterans like Woody Harrelson, Patrick Wilson and Dennis Quaid playing the officers. It’s all very overtly CGI that it’s like watching a video game at times. If they had used actual planes and battleships, or even models, it would have looked a lot better. There aren’t any standout performances. One of the Jonas Brothers plays one of the young airmen, and he’s fine in it.
Midway tries to be a bit more nuanced about the Japanese, but it’s still all gung-ho, America-rules sort of stuff. From all accounts, it’s reasonably historically accurate as far as the basic facts go, but it has a very weak script. So it’s a silly, Roland Emmerich take on an important historical battle—you know what you’re getting yourself into. I can give him some respect for the fact that for 30 years Emmerich has been able to work at a high production level. Some directors who had a couple of hits in the 90s are doing direct-to-video stuff while he’s still making 100 million movies.
There’s a commentary from Emmerich, various featurettes (making-of and factual—including one with two survivors), and the trailer fills out the special features list